With proper care, house rabbits can live for 6 to 12 years, which is much longer than wild rabbits live. But as they age, they require more and more care.
An average pet rabbit reaches middle age at around 3 to 5 years old, and they become geriatric at 7 to 8 years. The life span of a rabbit depends on several factors: the breed, genetics, and the kind of care they receive throughout their lives.
As a pet owner, you can help your pet by noticing when your furry friend begins showing signs of aging.
Signs Of An Aging Or Senior Rabbit
- Thinning, matting, or changing color of fur coat
- Change in appetite
- Muscle loss and change in weight
- Reduced agility and slower movement
- Recurring dental diseases
- Cataracts and glaucoma
- Narrowing of ear canal in lop rabbits and otitis infection
- Respiratory issues
- Heart disease
- Arthritis, spondylitis, and other skeletal problems
- Uterine tumors in unspayed female rabbits
- Renal failure
- Difficulty in using litter box
- Pododermatitis or sore hocks
If your rabbit falls ill, take him to the veterinarian immediately. Carry your old bunny gently in a comfortable rabbit carrier, padded with mats and blankets.
How To Care For Your Geriatric/Senior Rabbit
The following suggestions can help you care for your older or geriatric rabbit, and many of these suggestions apply to rabbits of all ages.
1) Place rugs and carpets around your house
Placing rugs and carpets provides a padding to the floor where your rabbit walks or hops around. The non-slip surface ensures that your rabbit does not lose his footing and fall. This especially helps rabbits with arthritis, as soft surfaces are easier on the joints to hop on.
2) Encourage your bunny to exercise
Your bunny will be less active as he ages, which is why you need to push him to exercise more and keep his body active. A sedentary lifestyle is detrimental to an aging bunny. Make your bunny do both physical activities and activities that provide mental stimulation as well, such as mazes and puzzle toys.
3) Make sure your rabbit is not stressed
Stress is not good for a rabbit of any age. They scare easily and can have fatal heart attacks from fright. This only increases as they age. Keep the place where your rabbit lives calm and devoid of noise. Also, avoid any unnecessary change in the environment or in their everyday schedule.
4) Pat them often and check for any physical changes
Bunnies love it when you pet them and care for them. They become even more needy for attention as they age. So make sure to pet them often and give them massages to help them relax and de-stress.
While massaging, you can also check for any physical anomalies, such as stiff muscles, bulges or swelling, change in the coat, misaligned bone structure, etc.
5) Give them dry baths
Older rabbits sometimes lose mobility and therefore the ability to clean themselves. You can bathe them, but avoid giving them a wet bath. Help them clean themselves by using cornstarch and gently massaging it in to remove dirt. Brush this out afterward.
Because they are not able to clean themselves well, you need to brush them frequently and help them groom themselves.
Oftentimes when an old rabbit is sick, the first sign of it is in their poop. It is either too hard or too runny — both of which can make the fur at their rear end soiled and matted. If that is the case, you must wash and clean their butts as well.
6) Check their dental health
As rabbits get older you might notice them being less interested in chewing toys. This indicates dental problems. Older rabbits have a tendency toward overgrown teeth, and they grind the teeth together when they are in pain or discomfort. Check their teeth as often as possible to make sure their dental health is OK.
7) Clip their nails
Because older rabbits do not go around digging everywhere, their nails grow longer without the constant friction. The overgrown nails can get caught in mats and rugs and hurt your rabbit. Keep them trimmed.
8) Make dietary changes
Older rabbits need a different diet plan. Since they lose a lot of muscle mass, their weight fluctuates. Ask your veterinarian if you need to add more good-quality, high-fiber pellets along with their hay.
As rabbits age it is normal for them to lose their appetite and eat less. If you notice them eating a lot less hay, consult your veterinarian about adding fresh leaf vegetables and nutritious treats in their diet to create a balance. Keep in mind that a change in diet can mean a change in poop. Vegetables have a higher water concentration, so your rabbits might have runny cecotropes.
Even if your rabbit loses his appetite, hay should still be his staple diet. Add different kinds of hay, to change it up. You can use timothy hay, orchard hay, and oat hay.
Accept, Assess, And Adapt
To see your rabbit suffer at an old age is difficult as a pet parent, especially if you have brought him up from only a few months old.
But aging is inevitable, and you cannot stop it. What you can do is care for your elderly bunny and make his old age as comfortable as possible.
Other than the tips mentioned here, also keep an eye on whether your aging bunny is falling lonely and getting depressed. Try to spend more time with him if you notice a change in his mood.
If your older rabbit is alone and you believe he would like other rabbit company, consider getting a younger companion rabbit for your senior bunny. Be slow and patient with the introduction. Rabbits are territorial creatures, and they might take time to accept someone new in their space, especially at an old age.